Picks and Pans Review: The Handler

UPDATED 11/03/2003 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 11/03/2003 at 01:00 AM EST

CBS (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET)

[STARS 3]

Remember Wiseguy? Wish you could forget Fastlane? There's no use pretending that a TV show about undercover law-enforcement officers is a revolutionary idea. But this new series stands out by virtue of its attention to detail, concern for character development and sense of humor.

Fresh from his Emmy-winning stint as loose-cannon mobster Ralphie on The Sopranos, Joe Pantoliano steps confidently into the part of Joe Renato, trainer and leader of an FBI undercover team. Joe sometimes seems like more of a street-theater director than a crime fighter as he casts operatives in the right roles, critiques their acting and listens to their complaints. The other agents are a nice mix: Lily (Anna Belknap), a willing but nervous rookie; Darnell (Hill Harper), a black veteran tired of portraying thugs and dope dealers; and Heather (Lola Glaudini), a born actress who's always ready for her close-up. Still, I thought Joe was too colorful to be limited to a supervisory position, so I was glad to see him posing as a bank robber (and encountering an old flame) in the third episode. Now if he'd just lose that silly little hat he wears so often.

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